We are right there with everyone else on being completely over the Grammy discussion. That said we need some closure, so please endure one last opinion about the most polarizing Grammy ceremony in recent memory. It was the most watched telecast since 1984 (and second all-time) nearly doubling last year’s viewership — credit much of that to the sudden death of Whitney Houston just a day prior and our global need to see how the night would pull off a tribute (Jennifer Hudson would do an excellent job at that). Still, there’s a sense that pop music as a whole is reinvigorated with a more relevant edge (maybe it’s the Gaga effect or recent flair-ups like M.I.A at the Superbowl) and more “indie” sensibilities following Arcade Fire’s 2011 win and all the Bon Iver, or is it Bonnie Bear, press heading into this one. The 54th Annual Grammy Awards were a historic event, the kind that turns your twitter feed into something arguably more entertaining/annoying than the show itself, and one that reverberates with days of chatter and straight up complaints. The organizers (picture: a long table of old committee suits discussing pie charts and how many uses of Dave Grohl are possible) no doubt are in a tough place; you can’t please everyone, but it does appear that very few viewers left the experience fulfilled. They did a few things right (props to Adele, Glen Campbell and who can really hate on a hobo Taylor Swift), while others went laughably wrong. We’ve narrowed the many misses down to five:
Foster The People and Maroon 5? In no world are these two bands remotely similar or complimentary to music of the Beach Boys. Not that many acts reach that level these days, but surely there was something this year besides “Pumped Up Kicks” and “Moves Like Jagger” that better recalled those legendary harmonies. Maybe this was to be the medley for Bon Iver, had he not passed on participating, who knows? As Spin pointed out, wouldn’t it have been nice to see Grizzly Bear and TV on The Radio doing the honors, with their own flair, and not attempting an impossible carbon copy cover. Understanding that the event recruit 2011 hitmakers and not an indie dream team, so how about this: just let the Beach Boys play their songs. That reunion right there was a very big deal in itself, even if the guys appeared so endearingly shell shocked up there.
Not only was Chris Brown invited to attend, he was asked to perform and won Best R&B Album for F.A.M.E. It’s unfortunate to say the least, on the third anniversary of the assault on Rihanna, that he be so welcomed back in the spirit of second chances. Without going off on a tangent (because it’s not for satire), it sends out a terrible message, and sure enough did result in some troubling responses from Brown’s young female fanbase saying that he could beat them anytime, etc. And then for him to respond with his usual ugliness via twitter, is proof that even though this guy can dance, being a respectable artist is something else.
While all the performers deserved to be there due to obvious chart success, many of their excessive prop-heavy stage setups eventually started to blend into one big pop mess. By the time Nicki Minaj got to her ridiculous, Catholic-offending number, it was as if the point of all this was to simply out-shock one another—an idea fairly off-base with celebrating good music, but not at all surprising at this point. So much air time was dedicated to spectacle this year and taken away from a number of reduced categories (Latin, Jazz, Classical, etc) and so many deserving artists who don’t thrive off star-power.
Whatever this was, it certainly was not the tribute to Soul Train creator Don Cornelius that it could have been. Instead we got an electro-rock vomit of sorts. There’s no denying the massive following of David Guetta and Deadmau5, and it was smart of the Grammys to include this beyond-emerging scene in its festivities. But the outdoor Coachella raver tent approach just felt flat and fake, like we the TV audience and those in the auditorium were to sit and watch “the kids” have their fun. And crossing this with Lil Wayne, Chris Brown (again!) and the Foo Fighters all came off awkward and dated, like some early 2000s MTV News piece on “mash-ups”.
When an award show hands out Best New Artist to Bon Iver four years too late, we can assume they’ve got some catching up to do. For every forward thinking move they made on Sunday, they took twice as many steps backward. Tributes are program staples, so aside from the misplayed Beach Boys thing, they are excusable. But closing the night with a Paul McCartney solo-off for no good reason other than “hey ‘The End’! it’s almost like the Beatles!”, officially tipped this four hour show into a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Much respect to every musician on that stage, but if the Grammys want to get a grasp on current music, they should start by championing it as much as they do their classics.